October 16 – National Feral Cat Day and a Tribute to Lion King by Christine Michaels of Riverfront Cats


In tribute to Lion King – he is my poster cat for National Feral Cat Day

I am so deeply entrenched in cat advocacy issues now that it is almost hard for me to believe that several years ago I didn’t even know what a feral cat was, let alone that there were millions of them living within our communities across the country and that compassionate people were ensuring their rights and well-being by caring for them and managing their populations through education and TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) efforts.

I found out all of this and more as a chance encounter by someone I met on a blog. Her name was Christine Michaels of Riverfront Cats and little did I know that she and I would not only meet, but that we would become dear friends and that I would be a board member of the non-profit she created, Pawsitivley Humane, Inc.


Christine and I at last year’s BlogPaws Conference in Tysons Corner, VA. Typically cat advocacy is not quite so glamorous, so when we get the chance to dress up, we take full advantage of it!

Christine is the epitome of a cat-crusader and because she is one of the caretakers for the outdoor cats of the Riverfront Miami area, I thought she would be the perfect guest post to feature today in honor of National Feral Cat Day. Many of you may have already read this post – it was written by Christine as a tribute to one of her Riverfront Cats, Lion King, and was nominated for a Pettie award this year as well as receiving a Certificate of Excellence by the Cat Writers’ Association.

I happened to have met Lion King myself and he changed my life. He was one of the reasons I am such a staunch supporter of helping these precious creatures and after you read this poignantly written and heartfelt story, I think you will understand why.

Lion King and the Circle of Love

By Christine Michaels

Today was literally picture and climate perfect. Blue skies, sunshine, wafty clouds, 80 degrees and dry. But today, the world ended for one of our Riverfront Cats. Lion King crossed the rainbow bridge. This day came too soon.


Leroy, Christine, and Lion King – this photo was taken a couple of years ago when I first met Christine and the Riverfront Cats.

Lion King was an outdoor community cat near the Miami River in downtown Miami cared for by a small team of volunteers. He was visibly losing weight drastically. Volunteers observed that he flinched in pain at the first bite of food, even moist food. He was starving. After much effort, volunteers finally caught him and rushed him to the vet. Lion King was treated for gum infection and had two teeth extracted and was released outside days later. But the FIV won the war. His FIV (Feline AIDS) was advanced and this prevented him from fighting the infection. Living outdoors would expedite his dying days. He was withering away. Lion King would die of starvation–a slow painful death. That’s when we knew the time had come.

At the vet’s office, I cradled Lion King in a swath of white towels. He looked like an angel, his lackluster gold fur and big round green eyes locked with mine. He didn’t flinch, no hissing, no writhing. He looked at me with ease. He trusted me. The tears rushed down my face. The pain and grief crushing my spirit.

Lion King in Carrer BAH May 7 2013

Lion King in his carrier at the vets office. Photo courtesy of Christine Michaels.

Dr. Wilber reassured me, “he knew to trust you.” Little did she know the irony. The dagger piercing my heart. Lion King was the very first cat and first feral cat I ever trapped in learning about TNR in 2009. He was also the first Riverfront Cat I had to put to sleep. He was feral in every sense. I recalled the first week I saw him, roaming around the construction trailers on the neighboring empty lot and how he stayed at a distance with a scowl, and would not eat his bowl of food until I was a measurable distance away. In my mind, I called him “Mr. Meanie” but never dared to mouth those words for fear of it coming true.

Over the years, he inched closer to volunteers, waiting for the dispensing of food. In another year, a shocking advancement. Lion King, a feral cat, gave nose kisses to my dog Ma Cherie (a Maltese). I couldn’t believe my eyes. You see Ma Cherie was accustomed to cats, scared and docile cats. She knew to wait for them to approach her. Clearly Lion King appreciated a four-legged animal that didn’t pounce, hiss, attack or scratch. Then in 2012, one day while talking to another volunteer outdoors, Lion King appeared and started rubbing against our legs! These were the baby steps that every parent gushes over and wishes they had a photo or video camera to record the moment. Would he repeat the gesture? Yes. Then eventually he allowed us to pet him on the top of his head and down his back and through this daily interaction, over the months, Lion King transformed to a sweet cat, kneading, purring and for the first time, meowing. He was like an orphaned child, hungry for affection and food.

Christine and Mon Cherie

Christine and Ma Cherie

And now here I am, sitting in the waiting room of the vet clinic with Lion King in his carrier and he started purring. Ok so it could be a nervous purr. But then he started kneading. He was comforted by my stroking his gold fur. This once feral cat was literally melting in my hands! I cried quietly. “Why now?” I asked God. “Why now after four years does he trust me unconditionally?” But as a feral cat caretaker I knew the answer– The dangers of living in a city. On average they live to six years of age. Lion King was anywhere from 4-5 years old. And in those years, he lived a good life. He was fed daily, never missing a meal in four years, 365 days. Ours was a a journey built on trust–just like any relationship. It took time and patience and routine. Nothing is impossible with patience and regular TLC.

Lion King sought shelter from severe rains in our condo garage and appeared for feedings outside at a designated area volunteers created and named “Station 1”. He was indeed a King, staking the west side of the Riverfront, protecting the other cats from invaders and patiently waiting for us humans nightly to provide sustenance.

Dr. Wilber asked me if I wanted to stay for the final injection. “Oh no,” I stated emphatically. I said my goodbyes while he lie awake on the clinic bed, his head on the pillow, his shriveled body tucked underneath towels like blankets. I stroked his head “Lion King, I have to say goodbye. You taught me so much about cats and about myself. You changed my life for the better. Now you’re going to a better place. No more suffering Lion King. You’re going to pet heaven. And I promise Lion King, I will see you there in the future. I don’t want to go to people heaven. I asked God to send me to pet heaven. No more suffering my sweet boy. No more suffering. Run, play and eat all you want. I love you.”

Christine in costume squatting with Leroy, LK-rev

Christine in happier days as she is seen here dressed in black cat garb last year for National Feral Cat Day. She is seen here with Leroy and Lion King and you will notice how close she is to both of them! Photo courtesy of Christine Michaels.

As I looked up at the vet, she too was crying. She thanked and comforted me with kind words “Lion King had a good life thanks to you. Without you he would die a slow painful death. He knew to trust you.” Absorbing her words, the tears paused. Yes, Lion King had a wonderful life as a cat, free to roam the outdoors–climb trees, hunt for insects, play with his friends, and breathe fresh air. I made a difference.

THE CIRCLE OF LOVE Lion King was the first male homeless cat that I came across upon moving to these newly built condos. I had already encountered Aurora, Pandora, Midora and Cosette, all females. So I anointed him “Lion King” his gold fur fit for royalty. Despite the fact that he was feral, and a gruff exterior to match, I knew he would make a good king. Little did I know he would teach me, not just the Circle of Life but also “The Circle of Love.” Cats form a bond with their environment and people. They don’t just receive food, they give back like any pet. In feeding these cats daily, spending a few minutes with them, they enriched my life.They teach me respect for nature, never take anything for granted, and most important — humility.

Thank you so much for sharing Lion King’s story, Christine. May his memory serve as a reminder to raise awareness about feral cats and to promote responsible and humane Trap-Neuter-Return programs throughout outdoor communities nationwide. And a special thank you to Christine and all the other compassionate individuals who help take care of these cats on a daily basis.

And as a special tribute to Lion King – the first time I ever met Christine was to do a three-part video series on debunking the misconceptions of feral cats by visiting the Riverfront Cats up close and personal. This video is my introduction to Lion King as well as  a lot of useful information on feral cats. It is a long video, but very much worth watching if you want to learn about feral cats.

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  1. Mistletoe & Hitch (rwb) says:

    It probably seems dumb, but I noticed two of the pictures of Lion King showed him with Leroy. So I can’t help but wonder about their relationship. Were they always fed together? Do the males and female feral cats segregate themselves from one another? Or is Lion King and Leroy eating together just a coincidence? I hope Leroy understands where Lion King went and that he was treated with respect and dignity. Now Lion King enjoys the gentle wonders of Summerland, never afraid, hungry or in pain. I hope Leroy is also protected here in our world.

    • Deb says:

      Mistletoe and Hitch – not dumb at all – I appreciate your eye for detail and concern and compassion for both Lion King and Leroy. I will try to have Christine pop by today so that she can provide an update regarding Leroy for you.

    • Hello Mistletoe & Hitch,
      Thank you for question as it speaks to directly to the “communing” of these “community cats”.

      If you would like to visit my blog for the original post (http://bit.ly/1aPfCui) it goes into more depth and answers your question.

      Lion King was the leader of the Riverfront Cats. With so much commotion from building construction around us he was trying to find a new territory to settle into. Eventually he did at Station 1, a section to the west of our building where we also discovered 5 all black cats. One of them was Leroy. The others died and we rescued his sister Tiffany (who now lives in 2 story home in Baltimore). Also when males and female are spayed and neutered they get along. We feed three colonies where both males and females coexist but the spaying/neutering eliminates the yowling.

      Lion King and Leroy became best buddies. But it was Leroy who we whisked away first after a horrific leg injury. Lion King meowed and cried for the first time. This was after we already extracted some of his teeth. Leroy underwent leg amputation but thankfully he’s healthy, adjusted to living indoors and is even sweeter.

      Lion King went downhill in the absence of Leroy but also due to his deteriorating condition. The fact that Lion King appeared the meanest cat when I first moved in, and then melted in my hands like sweet butter after a few years, is proof that cats experience emotions. We do not need scientific studies (one recently was published that dogs and cats have emotions) to tell us what cat caretakers and pet guardians already know.

      Feel free to visit and follow our website to learn more about these amazing creatures and share this valuable information and make a difference for all cats! Thank you! ~~ Christine

      • Mistletoe & Hitch (rwb) says:

        Thank you both, for answering our HuMom’s question. She wasn’t surprised to read that Lion King and Leroy were the best of friends. We and our Orange brothers have taught her that cats have full and complete personalities and need love and affection just like all living things. Our Oranges birth mother is a TNR cat that now lives as a barn cat on our veterinarians property. We thank you both for this wonderful post on Feral Cat Day. We know your work has opened the hearts of many.

  2. I am one that had already read this fabulous post but I wanted to say what a PURRFECT choice to feature it again on Feral Cat Day.
    You and Christine are both amazing women and I love you both!

    • Deb says:

      Caren – if memory serves me right, I think I met Christine through your blog – I remember her commenting about something that intrigued me and it caused me to go to her Riverfront Cats page. Christine and I both adore you as well, and how cool is it that all three of us cat ladies are Libra’s!!! xoxox

  3. Sue Brandes says:

    Very nice tribute. So glad they have people and places that want to help feral kitties. They deserve a good life too.

  4. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    just wanted to say THANX Christine and Deb for all the work you do for all these cats….I read Lion King’s story over at Riverfront; I can’t read it again, at least not now… as I’m sneaking into blogland from work…

    sure I can use the excuse my paycheck sucks …….that’s why I am bawling like a wee babe…but it’s not payday….soooooooo…

    It would be amazing if some day; and hopefully yet in our lifetime, if all feral cats…strays….cat’s period…did not need to…. live in fear, worry if their hunger pains would subside, or try and search for shelter from any number of things….

    You know the cats say thanx and they appreciate everything you do…. and at day’s end……that’s all that matters

    keep up the great work !!

  5. thanks for what you both do for these cats!!! it is because people are willing to give these cats a “face” and a name that people realize they are important. (though I have to admit to still having the giggles from watching Christine’s video last night)

    our feral girl Allie is getting an extra treat tonight 🙂

  6. I had read the story of Lion King at the time it was published but thank you for posting it again. This is such a poignant story and a purrfect illustration for today.

  7. meowmeowmans says:

    What a moving and poignant post for National Feral Cat Day. Christine and Deb — thank you for all you do on behalf of the feral kitties. And special thanks to Christine for loving Lion King so much and so well. Love and kindness are so transformational — for the giver and receiver alike.

  8. Brian says:

    We love feral kitties and we love those who help them.

  9. The purrfect post for National Feral Cat day. Very moving and eloquent. Thank you so much for all the great work you do! x

  10. A poignant and beautiful way to commemorate the day….

  11. We love Miss Christine. What a happy…and sad…story about Lion King. Thanks for sharing it with us on this Feral Cat Day. 🙂

  12. Paula says:

    thank you for sharing and spreading feral cat awareness. i rescued a feral kitten several years ago. she is such a great kitty. raised in a house full of dogs, thinks she is part dog. 🙂

  13. Rhonda Jones says:

    Wow, once again a post that brings tears to my eyes. I’ve given food, shelter and medical care to many a feral cat, although I never officially belonged to any organization that did this.

    I have also said MANY MANY times, that I want to go to Cat heaven, and not people heaven. Cat Heaven would be what heaven is all about, love and peace. LOL, although I have always joked that there are gonna be some pretty fierce cat fights when I get to Cat heaven and all of my lifelong cats rush to greet me at once!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for stopping by to read Christine’s guest post, Rhonda. And how nice to know that you have given so much of yourself to help feral cats. And yes, I can only imagine what cat heaven would be like – It would be a mad rush of kitties coming to greet me as well!